Archive | November, 2009

Kawaii Zakka and Interior Decoration

29 Nov

Kawaii Interior Decoration
25/JUL/2009 on air

How is it like to live in a “character room” with as many as 1000 of Hello Kitty in a small 8Jo (about 13 square meters) room? Here’s the owner of the room, Asako-san, a housewife saying “Hello Kitty is just increased like this while I started collecting, but I don’t think this is enough.” Another woman, an illustrator enjoys as many as 500 dolls in a small 4.5Jo room (6.5 square meters) and she sleeps there. “I’m happy if I can live with my favorite things around.” But how is it like to be looked down by 500 dolls around while she is sleeping? Ichigohime-san (it’s just a nickname, meaning strawberry princess) collects everything with strawberry motif in her 8.5Jo room. Can you believe that she has spent total 20 million yen (USD200,000) into the strawberry room? TV, bowl, dress, and even the scent of the room are all strawberry! The dress was from her mom and cost 280,000 yen (USD2800)! “She has collected enough strawberries, and now I just want her to get dressed with this dress to find someone to live together,” says her mom.

There was a letter from a couple who live in a small 6Jo room together. The concept of their room is second hand clothing of American taste. The items in the room are what the man has collected since he was a teenager. There is not enough space to store things, and so they hang their clothes or even sneakers on the wall. It looks there’s no space for sleeping but the green area is actually where they sleep.

There are as many as 70 interior shops in Meguro, Tokyo which is called “Interior Street” of stores with several different interior tastes such as ethnic, mid-century, Showa retro, etc. A man of good knowledge on Meguro Interior Street is called “Meguro Interior Hakase” (meaning Dr. Meguro Interior). He checked out all the stores on the street and grasps characteristics of each shop.

Acme Furniture opened 15 years ago and it was the first one of the shops on the street. Their furniture is purchased in the west coast of the U.S. and vintage furniture is made in 1950-1970. It’s interesting they offer custom-made furniture such as using some auto-part from airplane.

Fortuna deals with furniture directly imported from the U.S., but limited to small ones targeted for single use.

Claska is a famous nice interior hotel where many foreigners visit. Each room has different concept of interior. Take a room #702, for example, you see a bed decorated with soft toys of second hand use. At a room #707, the concept is “recycle” and “pressed flowers” at #701.

ICS is a first interior school in Japan that was established in 1963. Today, 1/3 of students are from foreign countries.

It was only 3 years ago when IKEA opened in Japan. They needed to study Japanese market very carefully because foreign furniture is sometimes too big for Japanese houses. They started from “home visit” people to ask what kind of problems they have for living. Then they tried to understand the demands of Japanese people and analyzed them.

Then how is Japanese interior brand? Francfranc is increasing its sales drastically. It’s a brand of cute zakka (daily goods such as kitchen tools or cushion or clock) and small furniture. They have strong target image of 25-year-old women living in a city. They have expanded 112 branches in Japan, as well as some in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea. They target China and India in the near future.
It’s important for them to catch the new trends always.

Tokyo Girls Fudosan (meaning real estate) is a small company run by a few young women, but they are getting popular for what they have done. They buy old houses or apartments in Tokyo, renovate them, and promote them for rent. The turned 30-year-old house to a share house with 10 people and this was so popular with as many as 30 people waiting lists. Because the location is at the centre of Aoyama, Tokyo, even the small room with strange shape costs 89,000 yen monthly for rent.

A man opens his studio type of room as a café to his friends, which accompanies with sacrificing himself sleeping in a closet!

These days there is a boutique or apparel shop that deals with zakka to attract more customers who like interior may also be interested in their clothing.

Kirin’s opinion:
I don’t like to live in a mess. To me, full of character or strawberry or used clothes hung around means just a mess. I think that when it comes to living, less is more, and color coordination is also very important to maintain unity of the atmosphere of the room. It makes me sick if I am surrounded by so many different colors and materials at once… This is my honest opinion, but how about you?

Strong YEN, Weak Economy

27 Nov

Today Japanese Yen hit strongest againt USD for the first time in 14 years. Yesterday’s big news was that 1USD was exchanged at 86 yen for the first time in 14 years, but today it broke the record.

Strong Yen is damage to Japanese economy, as it relies on exporting business. It’s said that we have to strengthen domestic consumption more and try not too much to be dependent on foreign demand.

Then what’s going on among domestic business?
I have to say it’s in the middle of deflation, unfortunately, which we can feel everyday even before we heard the statement from our government some time ago.

We’ve been soaked in deflation for a decade, and I cannot even remember what it was like to be inflation. (I’d say I don’t know inflation, because in the 1980s I was only a kid who didn’t know how adults enjoyed our bubble economy. Our economy has been bad since I started to work and nothing’s changed in a good way. Things are rather getting worse! ) In the past 10 years up until now, our salary is less likely to be raised, bonus is highly cut off, lay-off or bankruptcy is always, almost 0% of interests for the bank savings, and low prices are the only valid reason to attract customers.

g.u flyer

*Disclaimer: The photo is quoted from g.u.’s PDF flyer from here.

Especially low prices, I’m afraid this trend is accelerating. Do you know that we can buy a pair of jeans for only 990 yen at g.u. (g.u. is cheaper version of Uniqlo) or for 880 yen at super market such as Aeon or Daiei, and even for 690 yen at Don Quijote today? As far as what I hear, the good thing about that is not “You get what you pay for.” I’ve never tried these things, but people say they are mostly satisfied with the price and what they can get. Thus, they get more than what they paid for.

I miss old days when people said “Everything is expensive in Japan” as now it’s apparently wrong today. When I am inside the deflation economy, my perception or judgment is based on Tokyo pricing. With such observing point, there’s no wonder I felt that eating out in Australia or Europe required too much money when I travelled last summer. But now I know that they are normal, as their economy is growing with healthy inflation. It’s not that they are charging too much, it was our problem. Our economy situation was very weird and something insane. 😦

Everyone is happy about low prices, including me. On the other hand though, I am so worried about what’s going on in our country. I feel sorry for the situation of our economy that allows extraordinarily cheap things like under 1000 yen jeans. How do you see this?

Life is fair and is even with good things and bad things half and half.

25 Nov

When you have sequence of negative experience, sadness, madness, disappointment, failure, and etc. don’t you think you feel like blaming your fate?

When I was younger, I couldn’t stop comparing my life or myself with my friends’, although I knew that was completely nonsense. It just made me sad whenever I wondered why my family was not happy while my friend’s one was, why I was so bad at math, why I had less good friends, why, why, why…and that only tortured myself more and more…

This bad habit didn’t change even after I started working. Whenever I saw my colleagues’ good designs and cool ideas, I questioned myself “Was I able to come up with such an idea? No, I don’t think so…” and I was upset.

There’s no one who has only good things, and vice versa. That’s too natural to be told. Yes, I know. But I want that to be told from time to time. SInce most of Japanese people do not have religion, which however doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in whatever God, I think I sometimes want to listen to preaches from someone who has deep experience of his life.

Lately I read a book “Seifu no housoku (正負の法則)“. It means principle of positive and negative in this universe. And this book taught me something very interesting.

According to the author, Akihiro Miwa, anyone’s life is even with good things and bad things happening equally. One of the parts I found interesting was that if your life is too many good things so far, you’d better go for charity or something before bad things actually occur to you. If you just enjoy good things, you will have to have very bad things to balance your life, because that’s how life is supposed to be.

In that sense, he says if your life is so-so or OK, that’s considered good enough because you wouldn’t have very bad things to set off. People would envy beautiful, rich, popular and successful people, but they should have negative things to set off such positive things.
I thought that’s one of the reasons why celebrities or rich people make donation often, in order to set off their too many positive things.

My life has become something more relaxed since I stopped comparing.
This book also made me expect good things from so many bad things so far happened in my life. 🙂
What do you think? Have you heard of similar story?

Aflac does a good job with Manekinekoduck!

22 Nov

Aflac (American Family Life Assurance Company) is an American insurance company that is successfully increasing its sales in Japan, too. Basically I don’t like TV commercials of any insurance companies, and Aflac was not exceptional. I have negative images on them because sometimes I’m annoyed by their sales pitch phone calls.

As you may have already known it well, duck is often used in a TV commercials of Aflac. In Japan, it has been the same. The duck has been a symbol of Aflac. You can watch several commercials of Aflac in Japan from here.

But recently they released a cute original character named “Manekinekoduck” and I’m in love with this since I got a mascot from some medical seminar that was sponsored by Aflac the other day.
Video is worth a thousand words. There’s Manekinekoduck song available.

Here’s a photo of the mascot I have.

manekinekoduck
Watch the short video and you can see how it sings like.

What I am impressed is not only the cuteness of the character or the song, but their effort to compete in Japanese market. I mean, “When in Japan, do as the Japanese do”. That is to say, creating original character or paying for a copyright to collaborate with famous character such as Rilakkuma is inevitable to win more Japanese customers today. Characters are not only for kids or girls. Any aged men or women like to have character goods in Japan.

In fact, Manekinekoduck has already changed my negative image towards insurance company so far, and I do press it several times a day to enjoy its singing. This cute character is awesome. It’s going to brainwash us and someday I may knock on the door of Aflac’s office to join their insurance. :p

Many international companies come and leave Japan. It doesn’t mean their strategy that worked out in the U.S or Europe will do in Japan, too. I can see that Aflac is adjusting to Japanese market now, and I liked that. 🙂

How did you like Manekinekoduck?
(Manekineko= beckoning cat)

Being the same with majority is good?

20 Nov

Upon this post, I received an interesting comment from Shayna and I’d like to share my opinion in this post.

Here’s her question:
“Why do Japanese people tend to dress up almost the same as everyone else (etc. wearing same color workshirt – which is White most of the time, carrying the same design of work bags and also shoes, belts, etc?)
I really want to know what is the reason behind this…. Hope you could share with me…”

She is speaking of the photo I uploaded in the above post (you can check it from here) and you can see every young Japanese man and woman is getting dressed almost exactly the same as the one next to him or her.

This photo focuses on those who came to seminars run by Japanese blue chip companies that were trying to hire new graduates next or next after next spring. That’s why they dress in this way to stay as “safe” (無難). I don’t want you to misunderstand that we are dressing like this same way to this extent in any cases, which is apparent if you are a regular audience of Tokyo Kawaii TV that tells what’s going on in today’s Tokyo fashion.

But you’ll still wonder why we have to get dressed with the same color, same bag, same shoes, same coordination, etc. I said that is to be liked by HR of the companies they met on the day. But you’d think, “It shouldn’t be that same, and it should be alright as long as the looks are appropriate for such occasions.” Right, and I think so, that’s why I sometimes feel that I don’t fit into Japanese culture, although I am 100% Japanese! LOL

First of all, let me tell you this. In Japan, it’s basically considered good to be the same as others. This tendency gets stronger when you go to country side, or when you have to be conservative, just like the meeting with companies mentioned above or in such occasions like everyone orders the same thing at a restaurant when they are not close each other. Men are basically more conservative than women, and I think that’s why every Japanese business man looks almost the same as others.

There are following proverbs in Japan and being unique and sticking out of the crowd is regarded “not pleasant”. And staying the same as majority of other people is considered safe, peaceful, pleasant, and nice in Japan.

-出る杭は打たれる。(Nail sticking up is ready to be hammered.)
-寄らば大樹の陰。(Select a big tree for your shelter. / There’s safety in numbers.)
-長いものには巻かれろ。(Yield to the powerful.)

Being homogeneous race and speaking only Japanese in a small island may have created such culture. I sometimes feel sick when I’m back from other cosmopolitan big cities where many other nations live together to feel how small it was where I was living. This sense is very difficult to explain, but it’s there!
Considering that these people are trying to get job under such bad economy, they should not give bad impressions to the companies. There are some stupid companies that secretly say no to specific colored suits like navy blue and the students need to be safest because it’s ridiculous if they didn’t pass the interview or a ticket to the next step because of what they put on.

But it’s also true that Harajuku – Shibuya fashion that is often picked up by Tokyo Kawaii TV is also something special. Most of the places, you’ll hear such conversations in Japan.

shop assistant : “This shirt is selling well in this season. It was also introduced in this fashion magazine and that one, too. The model XX-chan wears this. Isn’t it cute? Many people come buy it, so why don’t you get one for yourself while there’s a stock?”

shopper : “Which color is most popular?”

shop assistant : “Definitely this one!”

shopper : “Then, let me take it!”

To me it’s no way! I don’t want to wear something many people like to. I just like to buy what I like, and whether it sells well or not doesn’t matter at all! How about you? I wish I were good at sewing and enjoy making and wearing clothes of my original. :p

It's high time for Kotatsu table!

18 Nov

kotatsu1

*Disclaimer: the photos in this post are quoted from DINOS, or one of the most well-known Japanese mail order companies.

“Tatami room + Kotatsu + mandarin orange = winter!”
This is the basic image for most of Japanese people to have more or less as an image of winter. These days this image maybe waned off because young Japanese people tend to avoid Tatami room and is replaced by wood flooring room as well as Kotastu is replaced by floor heating system.

When I moved to my apartment where I live now, I could select either way;
-Remain Tatami room,
or
-Change Tatami room to wood flooring room.

But I had the above image, as a Japanese it’s a bliss to put my whole body but face into the Kotatsu to warm myself in the winter, because that’s how I spent winter in my life before I moved to this apartment. Thus my choice was of course “remain Tatami room” and I brought my Kotatsu table set from my room. (Many people nowadays enjoy Kotatsu in a wood flooring room. Considering lying down, however, I prefer Tatami mat to wood flooring because it’s soft. Carpet is also soft but it’s a bit dusty and I don’t think it’s hygienic to breathe 20cm above the carpet when I’m lying down in the Kotatsu.)

If you are familiar with Japanese anime or manga titled “Sazae-san” or “Chibi Maruko-chan” I guess these are describing good old days of Japan and then, Kotatsu must be there around October or November up to March. It’s a sort of symbol of peaceful Japanese family sitting in a circle to chat while eating mandarin oranges.

You’ll get what I mean from this episode from Sazae-san.

It was my first experience to live in an apartment made of concrete with much insulation, I couldn’t imagine how warm inside the house in the winter. I was brought up in a wooden house without enough insulation, it was only 2 or 3 degrees centigrade inside the house in the morning of winter season. (The house is next prefecture to Tokyo, and so it’s still warmer compared with some other parts of Japan, though.)

After I spent some winter seasons in this apartment, I found I didn’t need Kotatsu any more, because even in February, without heating there’s over 16C or something. With floor heating system, it’s sometimes getting too hot in a daytime. So it was about 5 years ago I said good-bye to my Kotatsu set and the very Japanese way of enjoying winter with it. But I can see now is the time to start up Kotatsu for warmer and more comfortable winter at most of other houses in Japan. 🙂

There is a saying in Japanese, Zukan Sokunetsu (頭寒足熱) meaning, head cold, legs warm. When you study or work in a cold climate, warm air from air conditioner is not good. It just warms the air around your head or face and that just makes you sleepy. That’s why Kotatsu is for us. Warming your legs while keeping the air around your head or face cool, you can improve efficiency, and you don’t really feel cold while your legs are warmed. If you feel your upper body cold, you can just wear more.

There is a western type of Kotatsu, too. But I definitely like Japanese one!!

kotatsu2

Kawaii Rainwear

16 Nov

Kawaii Rainwear
27/JUN/2009 on air

Rainy days are when we should enjoy rainy fashion! Rain boots are very popular among fashionable people in Japan. Some time ago, speaking of rain boots, young people would see them ugly and didn’t want to wear them. But today, we have so many kawaii rain boots with various patterns and colors. There’s no way we should ignore such fun items to wear under leaden skies.

June is a typical rainy season called “Tsuyu (梅雨)” in Japan (except Hokkaido where there’s no rainy season). Rain boots are selling well every year. They cost 15,000 yen in average at department stores, but you can get them cheaper somewhere else. The rain boots that were used for Paris Collection are made in Japan. Since then, rubber-made rain pumps are also getting popular in Japan.

Tsuchiya-san, the No.1 rain boots collecter in Japan has collected as many as 110 pairs of rain boots for 15 years, and he has spent as much as 1,500,000 yen for them! His collection is everywhere in his house. He wears them everyday, regardless of the weather. The most expensive pairs of rain boots he owns were 40,000 yen from online auction and they are from Chanel. Outside is rubber, but inside is leather.

What we don’t like about rainy days is the humidity that makes our hair messy. There is a hair salon that takes care of such problems.
The hair stylists of the hair salon, “Air-s” suggests nice hair styles that are suitable for rainy days so that their customers should not have hard time with humidity.

In Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, mori hair style is made for hostesses. They have to fix the hair with a lot more spraying than usual.

“Vinigasa” (vinyl + kasa, or plastic umbrella) is a casual, cheap, disposable type of umbrella, sometimes with cute prints on and it costs only 300 yen.

There is a store that made “Vinigasa” for the first time in Japan 50 years ago. It’s true Vinigasa is breakable because it’s made as disposable and the price is only for that. Then how about paying 4,200 yen for a single Vinigasa that is considered high class and durable? It’s mainly used by politicians during the election campaign.

Moriya-san’s rubber art is awesome. There are only a few craftsmen in Japan who can paste the pattern on the surface of rain boots.
Mr. Ikki and Beni-chan designed their original rain boots.
85% rain coat is cute and cheap as 2,500 yen. 60,000 pieces of them were sold in 2008. There are many cute rain coats for kids, then why don’t we have them designed for adults?

High school girls do not like to wear unfashionable rain coats. They’d rather open an umbrella even while they ride on a bike even though they know it’s dangerous. The combination of cute rain boots and high-cut rain coat looks acceptable for them.

Kirin’s opinion:
I don’t like rainy days, but my rain boots make me feel like going out. I remember I paid about 10,000 yen for the pair and I didn’t feel like spending as much as leather boots for rubber boots. 😦 Reasonable but cute rain boots and 300 yen of cute Vinigasa is enough to make me happy for rainy days. 🙂